By Wednesday morning, the crisis caused by Shas' threat to withdraw
from the government had seemingly passed. Tuesday night, Shas already
voted with the government to approve the budget. The following was
written on Tuesday morning, as the crisis was at its height.
Early Monday morning, Shas leader Eli Yishai announced his
party is quitting the coalition. This, he said, was requested
by the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah after it became apparent its
budget demands were not being met. Yishai immediately
informed Prime Minister Ehud Barak of the decision, with the
premier requesting a 24-hour delay before he accepts the
resignation letter, to allow for further negotiations. The
political system seemed to presume that the crisis would be
resolved by Tuesday night, when the voting over the Law of
Arrangements began, and at the latest on Thursday night, in
time for the final vote on the budget in the Knesset.
If there is to be a financial compromise in Shas's battle
with the Education Ministry over the debts of its semi-
independent school system, it will require the Treasury to
pay off most of the NIS 100 million sum, Shas sources said on
Monday night. Other coalition partners won concessions of
comparable amounts, and it is not considered a large figure
in the NIS 400 billion budget.
The 17 seats of Shas provide the comfortable majority that
Barak's government enjoys. With Shas, the government has 68
votes in the 120-seat Knesset. Without them it has a minority
of 51, though it can count on the support of Shinui and at
least some of the Arabs. Such a coalition, however, is very
weak, and it would be difficult for Barak to advance his
diplomatic initiatives with Syria and the Palestinian
Authority if his government is so shaky.
Finance Minister Avraham Shohat said all sides are "really on
the verge of sorting this out." However, the threats from
An early Monday evening attempt to end the crisis with a
meeting between Education Minister Sarid and Shas Leader Eli
Yishai failed to bring matters to a close, but Yishai said
the session cleared the air. Barak and Shohat have been
behind Sarid every step of the way, added Agriculture
Minister Haim Oron (Meretz).
The battle with Meretz has presented Shas with an opportunity
for some soul-searching. The idea of remaining in the
coalition is unacceptable to most of its MKs, but they will
always accept the word of the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah, party
"In opposition I can work in accordance with my conscience,"
said David Tal, summing up the views of many of his
colleagues. Deputy Finance Minister Nissim Dahan said
opposition to remaining in the coalition is wall-to-wall.
This was confirmed by David Azoulai.
In entering the government, HaRav Ovadia Yosef and his newly
appointed party chairman, Eli Yishai, had just one key goal:
ensuring the financial future of Shas's schools. After nine
months in the government, the second largest party has so far
been unable to even secure their financial present by paying
off their loans.
The Knesset plenum, meanwhile, continued to discuss the
budget bill, with voting on the second reading expected to
begin Tuesday night. Voting on the third and final reading of
the budget was scheduled for late Thursday night.
Rabbi Ravitz said that it will be hard for UTJ to support the
budget if Shas does not, and it will not join with Shinui to